(N.B. This isn’t directed at anyone in particular. It should not also be read as a flounce.)
Today is kind of a weird day, if you’re a contemplative, and it’s mainly to do with the fact that contemplatives aren’t understood. In one sense, today is a very public demonstration of one’s faith. In another, the entire Church is being called to turn inwards, perhaps more than most would in their everyday lives.
That puts those of us who’re called to some sort of contemplative vocation in a weird place, especially if we’re the liminal types who’re both contemplatives and not living in some sort of community fully dedicated to contemplative life. Every day of our lives, we’re pulled in a thousand different directions, mainly having to do with our secular lives, which is as it should be, since we have obligations to things that contemplative monastics don’t: we have our families, our friends, and our jobs. That also means that our faith gets showered with a thousand different “shoulds” as to what we “should” be doing. Yes, witness is important, but so, also, is contemplation, which is something I think our culture has lost.
Some are quick to point out that there have been contemplatives who’re more public in their lives. (Mother Theresa had a very public ministry that was invaluable, but she’s not the type I’m discussing, although contemplative prayer was important to her.) Everyone likes to pull out Merton as an example of a “public” contemplative. Most religious communities in the Benedictine tradition lovingly offer hospitality. I’m certainly very public with some things: I blog, I’m on facebook, and I play WoW. I’m also engaged.
But there’s always a cloister. No matter how much I love my fiancé, he will never fill that “God-shaped hole” that’s in me. Nor will my blogs, facebook, or WoW. If you are at some sort of cloistered or semi-cloistered community, there are places you’re requested not to go, the cloister. Merton’s writings have certainly been a blessing in my life, but I can’t help but also feel his pain at being forced into a more public life than he was being called to, because that pain is something I have to mitigate every day of my life.
I’ve also got some pretty clearly-defined lines. There’s a point every night at which the computer gets locked and I get my space with my Maker. My prayer life is between my God, my spiritual director, and I, and there are things which don’t get blogged about, either. It’s when those lines get blurred that there’s trouble and conflict between these two worlds I’m in.
Yet often because my faith doesn’t fit “the norm” I’m written off as not being “on fire” enough or lukewarm, especially among the types who’re influenced by evangelicals. I’m attacked because I don’t publicly support the right causes or do the same things. Certainly there is always a need for protests, soup kitchens, and other acts of charity. Sometimes those things have to take precedence over anything else. But by engaging in those kinds of witness, I would be ignoring the one to which I was born: contemplation. I hope there’s still room for diversity in what our vocations are. Without it, the world would be a poorer place.